Scientists create zooming contact lens

Sounds like Tony Stark, but no, it’s a real invention of scientists at the University of California, San Diego: a contact lens that, controlled by eye movements, can zoom in on the image. To do this, the user simply has to blink twice, then.

The lenses are very easy to use: the subject must blink twice in a row to zoom in and repeat the same procedure to return to normal vision. This is only possible due to the difference in electrical potential between the front and back of the eyeball. The eye has an electric field that can be measured when performing certain movements, such as looking left, right, or blinking.

What the prototype does is identify the electrical signals of the movement (in this case, the two blinks) and translate it into the zoom. The lens is made of a flexible lens-like material – the part of the eye responsible for the focus. Upon receiving the signals, lenses are able to change shape to change their focal length by up to 32%.

Two blinks in a row zoom in on the image. But how? Scientists measured the electro-oculographic signals generated when the eyes make specific movements (up, down, left, right, blink, twinkle twice) and created a lens that responds directly to these electrical impulses. It is able to change its focal length depending on the signals generated by the eyes.

“Even if your eye can’t see anything, many people can still move the eyeball and generate this electro-oculographic signal,” said research coordinator Shengqiang Cai in an interview with New Scientist.

Made of polymers that “stretch” when electrical current is applied, the lens is controlled by five electrodes around the eye – which act as muscles. As the polymer becomes more convex, it zooms in.

This way, when looking down, the lens can know that you are reading and adjust focus for close, for example. And as you look ahead, readjust away. You can also use commands such as flashes to zoom in or out.

The technology is similar to that used by Stephen Hawking and people with limited body movements who can communicate by moving some muscles – they emit electrical signals and are interpreted by computers.

The prototype, for now, works only on special equipment with a series of components that will need to be miniaturized for a human to use.

Made of polymers that “stretch” when electrical current is applied, the lens is controlled by five electrodes around the eye – which act as muscles. As the polymer becomes more convex, it zooms in.

“Even if your eye can’t see anything, many people can still move the eyeball and generate this electro-oculographic signal,” says research coordinator Shengqiang Cai in an interview with New Scientist.

The creators believe that innovation can be used in ‘future visual prosthetics, adjustable glasses and remotely operated robotics’.

// Artificial skin promises 1,000 times faster response than human skin

A team of researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a type of artificial skin that promises soon to allow a sensation of touch equivalent to human skin – or even better. Called ACES – Electronic Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin, developed electronic skin detects touches more than 1,000 times faster than the human nervous system.

Unlike similar ones developed so far, in addition to responding very fast the invention has high resistance to damage. In tests with ACES, researchers were able to pinpoint the shape, texture and hardness of objects within 10 milliseconds – 10 times faster than the blink of an eye. The new system can also operate in conjunction with any type of sensor layer – effectively functioning as an electronic skin.

‘Humans use the sense of touch to perform almost every daily task. Without it, we lose even our sense of balance when walking. Similarly, robots need to have a sense of touch to interact better with humans, but robots today still can’t feel objects very well, ‘explained Professor Benjamin Tee, team coordinator.

ACES consists of a network of sensors connected by only one electrical conductor. It differs from existing electronic skins, which have interconnected wiring systems – which increases the chances of mechanical damage.

High sensitivity enhances the ability of robots to perform activities such as picking up and delivering a cup of coffee without letting it slip – as it becomes able to “feel” when holding the object or not.

This new technology can be applied to improve day-to-day tasks, ranging from packing products more accurately to disaster relief.

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